Malta among states lobbying for child migrant imprisonment in EU pact

Malta was one of a group of EU member states lobbying for amendments to a package of EU-wide migration laws which could allow the imprisonment of child migrants at borders from birth and reduce protections for unaccompanied children.

An investigation by the journalism cooperative Investigate Europe found that Malta, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czechia and others called for the introduction of stricter rules in the EU’s Migration and Asylum Pact.

The pact, not yet finalised, will see a politically rightwing shift in bloc-wide migration policy and its passing will mean a “surge in suffering”, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Meeting minutes obtained by Investigate Europe from EU Committee of Representatives (COREPER) discussions on the pact show how, in May 2023, representatives from Malta, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Czechia welcomed the abolishment of age limits for imprisoned persons.

Malta said excluding minors from being imprisoned would be “impracticable,” as it would lead to persons abusing the limit, falsely claiming to be minors.

Other EU countries, such as Germany, Portugal, and Ireland, protested the abolition of age limits. Luxembourg said, “The detention of children is completely out of the question.”

The upcoming pact could also affect child migrants arriving at borders unaccompanied by adults. Led by France, those EU states lobbying for stricter measures against migrants called for no exemptions from imprisonment in these cases, claiming an exemption could fuel trafficking.

To date, unaccompanied children cannot be legally imprisoned, yet member states often employ the practice. These include Malta, whose detention system has repeatedly been found to breach human rights.

The text, agreed on by COREPER in December, is expected to be presented to the EP Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday and voted on by MEPs before April.

The Shift has reported how, before those persons fleeing their countries and heading towards, or near Malta are being met with heavy-handed pushbacks from the Maltese government.

In the case of persons leaving from Libya, one of the largest migrant source countries for Malta, the government has closely coordinated with Libya’s de facto Haftar militia government and the widely condemned Libyan Coast Guard to intercept vessels.

A UN report from last year found that persons on those vessels are often pushed back into torturous detention in Libya.

                           

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